Tag Archives: Endurance

The Value of Effort

In the world of Pokémon, you will find that Pokémon raised by trainers are consistently stronger than wild Pokémon, even those of the same species and level.  They will have higher stats (attack, defense, special attack, special defense, and speed), making them more effective and more capable than their wild counterparts.  If we take a peek behind the scenes, we see that the reason for this is a system based on effort values (EVs).  When a Pokémon is victorious in battle, it gains a certain number of EVs based on the Pokémon it defeated.  These EVs come into play when the Pokémon levels up.  Each time a Pokémon increases in level, its stats increase, making it progressively stronger.  (Hence why a level 65 Charizard is significantly scarier than a level 36 Charizard.)  EVs add a bonus increase to stats on top of the increase that comes with the level-up.  Therefore, a Pokémon who works with a trainer will be stronger than a wild Pokémon of the same level.

There is something to be gleaned from this game mechanic to illustrate a mechanic of our spiritual walk.  Our faith is often tested as we proceed through life:  it is challenged by tragic experiences, tough questions, and valleys of uncertainty.  We have a vibrant relationship with God, so why did our loved one die so early?  We serve an all-powerful, all-good God, so why is there so much evil in the world?  Things have been so dry and empty in our spiritual life lately, was there anything to it to begin with?  It is not a question of if, but when we will be confronted with questions like these that upset our applecart and force us to critically think about our faith.  As disheartening as these struggles are, we grow and come to better understand our faith as we work through them.

These struggles make us look under the hood of what we believe and force us to answer the question of why we believe.  This does not mean that we will have a perfectly packaged answer for every question.  What it does mean is that we have tempered our faith with these questions.  We can learn a stupendous amount of information about the world around us through the many sciences and disciplines that have blossomed from the collective human psyche.  However, there still remain questions that stubbornly evade the reach of these tools.  These are questions addressed by faith and religion.  They persist because they cannot be answered purely through logic and reason, we simply do not have the information at our disposal to do that.  Thus, we find ourselves coming to grips with these problems, and, sometimes, God Himself, in a much more personal way.  We come to God without pretense and with our hearts open to Him.

Of course, it is certainly easier to simply regurgitate a stock answer (a Sunday School answer, as they’re sometimes called) and thereby avoid engaging God or those things which question our faith.  It is functionally little different than pulling the covers up over our heads.  Sure, they let us move along, but we do not grow.  Interestingly, there is another parallel we may draw from Pokémon.  There is an item in the games called “Rare Candy.”  Giving a Pokémon a Rare Candy makes it automatically level up using the minimum amount of experience needed.  They can be useful if one needs to level up immediately, but there is a profound catch:  levelling up with Rare Candy does not earn EVs which means that the bonuses they provide to stats will not be applied.  The result is that a Pokémon levelled up using primarily Rare Candy will be weaker than a Pokémon who levels up by earning experience in battle.  Likewise, if we constantly feed ourselves platitudes, we may be able to maintain our faith and say that we have been a Christian for years, but we will find that our relationship with God comes up woefully shallow when we need to draw from it.

Putting in the time and effort to train Pokémon with EVs yields stronger, more capable Pokémon.  Similarly, when we put in the time and effort to think about and better understand our faith, it strengthens our relationship with God.  In fact, it is not merely a matter of applying our faith but of letting our faith permeate the entirety of our lives.  We do not withhold anything from God as if He were ineffective, but trust and lean fully on Him to help us and guide us through life’s challenges.

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The Grind

Pokémon has been on my mind as of late, with the release of the 7th generation on the horizon and having recently completed a playthrough, myself, on my old blue version cartridge.  It is mind-boggling to reflect on how far the series has come since its initial release in the United States 18 years ago.  At the hazard of seeming old, I recall coming home from school one day to find that a VHS tape had arrived in the mail informing us that a new game called Pokémon was coming to America.  I cannot begin to guess how many hours since then I’ve passed playing it.  For those who may be unfamiliar with the franchise, Pokémon is a game in which you collect, train, and battle creatures called pocket monsters (Pokémon for short).  Along the way you earn badges by defeating the leaders of eight Pokémon gyms, thwart the plans of the nefarious Pokémon gangsters known as Team Rocket, encounter one-of-a-kind legendary Pokémon, and ultimately face off against the most powerful trainers in the land, the Elite Four, in order to claim the title of the Pokémon League Champion.

As might be expected, the more memorable parts of this experience are things like encountering new Pokémon and putting it all on the line in battles against strong trainers.  However, between these portions, there are stretches of time spent making your own Pokémon stronger by repeatedly battling wild Pokémon to gain experience and reach higher levels.  This is easily the most monotonous part of the experience and is often referred to in this and other games with similar mechanics as “grinding.”  Tedious or not, grinding is vital to continued progress through the game:  walking into a gym under-leveled will result in a bad time being had.

In our spiritual lives, as with Pokémon, grinding is a necessary part of our journey.  It is not exciting and it is not glamourous, but it is essential to our continued progress.  Sometimes we get the impression that a successful Christian life consists of transitioning from one glorious mountaintop experience to the next, and anything else means that we aren’t doing something right.  Such a perspective of Christianity, though, is simply incorrect.  Giving our lives to Christ entails a shift in our perspective that changes how we see ourselves, others, and the world.  Accordingly, our faith comes to permeate every aspect of our lives, even the mundane.  For a Christian, even the routine of the daily grind plays a role in our spiritual growth and development.  For it is primarily in this setting that we live out our faith and make good on the proclamations we make during Sunday worship.

Our set times of devotion are also subject to the experience of grinding.  As we navigate the hills and valleys of our spiritual lives, we will inevitably find that, during some periods, reading Scripture is less invigorating than before or that our prayer time seems dry.  However, this does not mean that they are no longer profitable for us to practice.  As a matter of fact, it is at such times that our commitment to spending time with God is of the utmost importance.  Consider the parable of the sower (Matt 13:1-9).  In it, Jesus speaks of seed that falls in four different places and the results from each.  One of these places is referred to as “stony” (having little soil) and the seed that falls here springs up quickly because the soil is not deep.  However, these plants are just as quickly scorched by the sun and wither because they have no roots.  Later, Jesus explains the meaning behind the parable of the sower and says the following:

“But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a little while.  For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles.”

-Matthew 13:20-21

What this gets at is the question of what we do when things are suddenly no longer all sunshine and lollipops.  How deep do our roots go?  Are we in it for the experience or are we committed to something that goes beyond our daily feel-good barometer?

It may not seem like we are accomplishing much when it is all we can do to still sit down to read our Bibles and pray each day.  However, in so doing, we are practicing obedience and patience, among other things.  We are coming to relate to God as being worthy of our devotion, not because of what we get out of it, but because of Who He is.  As we remain faithful, our faith continues to mature and be further grown.  While it may seem pointless and maybe even miserable at the time, when we have the chance to look back with the benefit of hindsight, we can see just how far we’ve come and how much we’ve grown through that time.

Grinding is a part of our spiritual growth, plain and simple.  There will be times when it will be required of us in order to progress as Christians just as we must put in time grinding in order to progress in Pokémon.  In both cases, we persist in spite of the monotony because we are pursuing something greater.  We keep our eyes set on the goal ahead and keep going so that we may finish well.


Remembering the Last Things – Part 2

Previously we discussed contemplating the final judgment in which all of humanity shall stand before God. In particular, we focused on the Scriptural precedent for such ruminations. With that groundwork laid, we will now proceed to more practical matters.

Part 1 was wrapped up with the juxtaposition of the fearsomeness of the judgment and the precious hope of grace. As we weigh anchor and set out for this particular cruising ground of meditation, it is of great importance that we understand our purpose in doing so. Although compunction (a holy sorrow for our sins) is a part of this line of thought, it is only a part and not the sum of the whole. These meditations do not end in despair, but quite the opposite: they renew our trust in God’s grace and urge us on in our pilgrimage here on earth.

In order to present some form and order for our line of thought I will defer to Evagrius Ponticus, a figure from the deserts of ancient Christianity. Despite some of his theological shortcomings, his insight and ability as a guide for the soul remain potent helps for us.

“Evagrius said, ‘While you sit in your cell, recall your attention, and remember the day of your death and you will see that your body is decaying. Think about the loss, feel the pain. Shrink from the vanity of the world outside. Be retiring, and be careful to keep your vow of quiet, and you will not weaken. Remember the souls in hell. Meditate on their condition, the bitter silence and the moaning, the fear and the strife, the waiting and the pain without relief, the tears that cannot cease to flow. Remember too the day of resurrection, imaging God’s terrible and awful judgment. Bring into your sight the confusion of sinners before God and His Christ, before angels and archangels and powers, and all the human race, punishment, everlasting fire, the worm that never dies, the darkness of Tartarus – and above them all the sound of the gnashing teeth, dread and torments. Bring before your eyes the good laid up for the righteous, their confidence before God the Father and Christ His Son, before angels and archangels and the powers, and all the people in the kingdom of heaven and its gifts, joy and peace. Remember all this. Weep and lament for the judgment of sinners, keep alert to the grief they suffer; be afraid that you are hurrying towards the same condemnation. Rejoice and exult at the good laid up for the righteous. Aim at enjoying the one, and being far from the other. Do not forget this, whether you in your cell or outside it. Keep these memories in your mind and so cast out of it the sordid thoughts that harm you.’”

-Excerpt from “The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks” translated by Benedicta Ward

Evagrius’ roadmap begins with the acceptance of our own mortality. This subject alone is a peculiar one, for, as a culture, we typically spend a great deal of time in shoving this fact to the back of our consciousness rather than accepting and living with it. However, taking time to remember that our lives are, in fact, finite helps us to get a more concrete grasp on our existence and reminds us that there will come a time when the physical overlay will be rolled back to reveal the eternal.

Next we contemplate and consider the horrors and suffering of souls in hell. It is important here to do two things: first, to remember that this outcome is the result of one’s own hardness of heart and refusal to accept salvation; second, to recall these things in a direct and real manner, not as the reminiscence of some Sulphur-laden outburst from the pulpit. If we only think of it as something that we’ve been told by a preacher or evangelism tract, it is very easy for hell to become a sort of boogeyman: perhaps disconcerting, but nothing more than a story told to make us behave. In the sort of meditation we are talking about here, we take out the middlemen and think upon hell in all of its horrific reality. This may bring us a little too close for comfort, but it is only natural that we should be upset by the eventualities of sin.

From the depths of hell, we move on to ponder the flipside of eternity: the joy and peace of heaven. Just as we embraced the realities of hell, we now turn to the realities of heaven, not as a sugar-coated bauble meant to entice us towards good behavior but as our ultimate goal and fulfillment, the Promised Land which God seeks to bring us to where we shall be with Him forever. This practice helps us familiarize ourselves with and acquire a taste for the things of heaven. This is not to say that godliness is an acquired taste, it isn’t that we must teach ourselves to like it. Rather, it is more the case that we must take the time to seek it out and allow ourselves to partake of it. For in many ways, the temptations of the devil are aimed at drawing our attention from heaven and warping our desire so that it seeks purely earthly things.

Evagrius concludes by urging us to keep the content of our meditation in mind at all times, to remain mindful of the truth we have pondered. This helps us to see things more accurately, in light of eternity. Perhaps the most accurate and succinct way to describe our meditations on heaven and hell is a realignment of the soul. It is a way in which we shake off the deceit of the devil’s machinations and allow God to clear away the corrosion that has built up on the eyes of our hearts so that we can see the world as it really is. We step back, humbled, from the idols of self-righteousness that we have erected and recommit ourselves to making God our all-in-all, casting ourselves upon His great mercy and love.

Further Exploration:

Here is a condensed version of Evagrius’ order of meditation:

  • Remember your own mortality, one day you will die
  • Recall the suffering and regret of souls in hell
  • Recall the joy and peace of souls in heaven
  • Remember these things and so aim at avoiding hell and pursuing heaven

Scripture to think on:

  • Matthew 25:31-46
  • Revelation 20:11-21:8

Remembering the Last Things – Part 1

There are many things that we can think and meditate upon for the profit of our souls. One that is often recommended to us by the Christians of antiquity is our inevitable death and judgment before God. Granted, in a time in which we have seen and continue to see such topics handled with all the finesse and discretion of rusty cleaver, contemplating death and judgment is less than appealing and seems to be the purview of a rabid and thoughtless theology. However, what I would like to ask of you is to set those impressions aside as best you can and approach this idea on its own, for what it is.

Let’s start with a Scriptural precedent for such contemplations, for they do not have their origins in the desire of one person to control another. Rather, they spring from the desire that a person should control him/herself. (While I won’t touch on it directly, it would be remiss of me not to mention the entirety of the book of Revelation here.)

Paul writes the following to the Corinthians:

“For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”

-2 Corinthians 5:1-10

Paul calls the church’s attention to the final judgment in order to give them perspective on their current condition; a perspective that includes eternity.

Peter also urges us to remain mindful of the Day of Judgment in light of the evils we encounter in life:

“For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? Now ‘If the righteous one is scarcely saved, where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?’ Therefore let those who suffer according to will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator.”

-1 Peter 4:17-19

In both of these instances from Scripture, the final judgment is not presented to invoke mindless fear, but as occasion for thoughtful reflection and, in particular, introspection. It is such recollection that helps to keep us anchored to God as we navigate the seas of life.

Yet another instance in Scripture in which are urged to be mindful of the last things comes from Christ Himself. Throughout Matthew 24:45-25:46, Jesus provides us with four parables that we might meditate upon the final judgment; namely, the parable of the faithful servant and the evil servant (24:45-51), the parable of the wise and foolish virgins (25:1-13), the parable of the talents (25:14-30), and the parable of the sheep and the goats (25:31-46). To whom is Christ telling these parables? His disciples. The meditation of judgment is presented to those following Christ that we should be careful to be prepared; that we should search our hearts and see to it that, insofar as it has been given to us, we live our lives in response to the grace we receive from God. Sometimes we may fall into overlooking our daily struggle with sin and become self-conceited. It is from such pride, I think, that a great many errors of churches spring. It leads us to veer from our calling to follow God and to instead serve ourselves and act as though we were self-sufficient, having no need of God other than as a mascot of our organization.

Now it bears mentioning where the idea of assurance of salvation/“perseverance of the saints” fits into this topic we’ve been discussing. If we trust in God to bring us safely to the port of heaven, what practical gain is there for us in contemplating His judgment? There is much that could be said of this concept, but here I will only provide a brief and pragmatically oriented response. First, when Scripture speaks to us of election, assurance of salvation, and so forth, a large portion of what is being communicated to us is that our trust in God in never misplaced. Second, concerning the intersection of our trust in God’s grace and our consideration of the fires of hell, I offer 2 Peter 1:10 where the apostle writes the following after a brief call to continued spiritual growth, “Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble;”

So we can see that Scripture encourages us to pause and remember that God will judge all people at the appointed time. Such practice is good for our soul because it reminds us not to become complacent or careless in our Christian walk. Paul sums up well the purpose of the reminders of fearsome judgment and precious hope we see in Scripture when he writes the following concerning the instances seen in the Old Testament:

“Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make a way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”

-1 Corinthians 10:11-13


Real Motives

Reading our Bible, praying, meditating, etc. are all things that we are often told to do and often talk about. However, it is worth our time to step back and think about the “why” behind it all. Why do we do these things? The answer to this question is of paramount importance to our persistence in them and what we get out of them. For example, if we do these things because they are what a Christian “ought to do”, then they take on the all the purpose and meaning of chores or items on a to-do list.

What I wish to do here is to recall our attention to the spiritual reality underlying all religious activity. Perhaps we have heard that the word of God is living and powerful (Hebrews 4:12) or that Holy Spirit abides in us and helps us (John 14:15-18). But maybe we’ve only heard them spoken in the midst of an emotion-fueled passion and when the heat of the moment is gone, so also fades the sense of profoundness of what we have heard. The tepid haze of distraction and tedium creep in once more and we find ourselves again distant from God and quietly trying to look like we have a vibrant relationship with Him, hints of whom we only see moving behind the curtains of someone else’s experience.

But what if there is more? What if Scripture is more than a collection of Christian slogans? What if this talk of a real God who loves us, died for us, and lives in us were all true in the truest sense possible? If we start from this as the basic immutable fact of life, then our perspective of all things changes in at least some way. Focusing on our religious practices: they cease to be acts that we use to try and justify our calling ourselves Christian. Instead, they are windows through which we meet and interact with God. We engage in prayer and searching the Scriptures not because a personal label compels us to, but because we are drawn to them as a taste of what really matters and is eternal. Even when we feel spent in spirit and haven’t the slightest inkling to pursue matters of faith, we engage in our disciplines with the hope and assurance that the real and living God of the universe is with us.


Clearing the View

I recently replaced the screen cover on my phone. The previous one had been in use for three years at least and was showing the signs of three years of wear. However, being the “utilitarian” fellow that I am, I only replaced it after it had almost completely fallen off. My proactivity (or, rather, lack thereof) aside, what struck me was the sharpness and the clarity of the screen once old protector had been removed. I had become so accustomed to seeing the screen through the scuffs, dirt, and wear of the old protector that I had forgotten what the screen actually looked like.

I think the same thing happens with our view of God, others, and the world around us. Going through life, we cannot help but be scuffed, accumulate dirt, and get worn. Life is messy. That is an inescapable fact of living in a fallen world. It is also why it is so important to take time to re-center and refocus on God. It is like the screen protector on my phone. The wear of life clouds and distorts our view of God just like the wear of use clouded the screen protector. When we take time to settle ourselves in God, be it through prayer, meditation, worship, etc. it is like changing the old screen protector for a new one: the clarity in our relationship with God is restored.

With this clarity comes a better view and appreciation of God’s glory as it is manifested in others and the world around us. Even though we live in a fallen world, we can still encounter God’s glory in various ways if we keep the eyes of our hearts open. The crispness and simple beauty of a phone screen was waiting to be revealed once I was able to focus on it again. Likewise, the glory and beauty of God is waiting to be revealed once we focus on it again.


Flay & Pray

I have written about League of Legends in the past, and I hope you will permit me to write of it again for illustration’s sake. One of my favorite characters to play as is Thresh, “The Chain Warden.” His tools of choice are a pair of chains tipped with a scythe and a lantern respectively. Thresh’s primary contributions to his team come in the form of restraining and locking down enemies while protecting his allies and helping them reposition on the map, all while soaking up the damage the opposing team dishes out.

Thresh’s first ability is “death sentence”. When activated, with the clatter of links, Thresh twirls the scythe over his head like a lasso before hurling it in a target direction. If it collides with an enemy, the scythe hooks onto them and they are stunned while Thresh tugs them toward him twice. He can even reactivate this ability to use the chain like a zip-line to dash to the hooked target. His second ability is “dark passage”. This causes Thresh to toss his lantern to a target location providing a shield to one nearby ally. If an ally clicks the lantern, Thresh uses it to quickly pull them to his location, even across walls and other obstacles. (This is sometimes called riding the “Thresh Express”.) Third in Thresh’s kit is a not so flashy move called “flay”. Passively, it causes Thresh’s basic attacks to do extra damage. Upon activation, he sweeps his chain in a line extending in front and behind him which pushes all enemies in its path a short distance in the direction of his swing and slows them. Last is his ultimate skill, “the box”. Activating this ability causes Thresh to summon five spectral walls around him, closing in anyone caught inside. If an enemy runs into a wall the wall is broken, but in return they take heavy damage and are slowed by a full 99% for 2 seconds.

As you might guess, these skills can be chained together to accomplish some pretty useful things. Most notoriously by grabbing an enemy with “death sentence”, tossing the lantern to an ally, then zipping to the enemy and using the lantern to bring your friend along to say hi. However, it is the subtle “flay” that plays a huge role in bringing many of Thresh’s combinations together and also brings a boatload of utility to the team. The slow it provides can be used to make landing “death sentence” easier and it can be used to push enemies into the walls of “the box”. “Flay” can also be used to interrupt enemy’s dashes, preventing them from escaping or diving onto one of your allies. In many ways, this least visible of Thresh’s abilities is also arguably the most important to his kit.

So why all this explanation? Well, this “flay” ability and the place it occupies in Thresh’s kit provides a good illustration of how the less visible and less public of our spiritual practices are the most important to our spiritual wellbeing. It is often the case that when we think of doing spiritual things, we think of going on mission trips, taking some huge leap of faith, or intensely spiritual experiences in general. However, while these things are good for our growth and service to God, they aren’t things that make up a large portion of our daily life. Rather, they are like highlights that give us a graceful boost. It is a dangerous proposition to try to engage in a spiritual journey using only these hops and runs, as we will soon find ourselves short on energy and short on progress.

It is better for us that we find a pattern and routine of regular time spent with God. This is, in fact, what we see modeled for us by Christ in the Gospels. In Luke’s Gospel, especially, we are shown that Jesus regularly withdrew to be alone with God and pray. When word spreads of how Jesus healed the leper and crowds come to Him to hear and to be healed we read: “So He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed.” (Luke 5:16) This isn’t Jesus fleeing from the crowds and refusing to minister to them. It is Jesus making time to spend with God in quiet, even in the midst of His rapidly growing ministry. Later on, in chapter six, we read: “Now it came to pass in those days that he went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God.” (Luke 6:12) This account is situated directly after Christ healed a man with a withered hand and right before He calls the twelve. Again, we see Jesus stepping back from His more public and visible actions to spend time in quiet with God. In verses 9:18 and 11:1, we get another interesting perspective of Jesus’ prayer-life: “And it happened, as He was alone praying, that His disciples joined Him, and He asked them, saying, “Who do the crowds say I am?” (Luke 9:18) “Now it came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, that one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.” (Luke 11:1) In these two instances, we encounter Jesus’ withdrawing to be in quiet prayer as something that He regularly did.

Although these portions of the Gospels are brief and not very flashy, we should not discount their significance nor overlook the importance of the picture they present when viewed together. We see Christ, who was 100% God and 100% man, regularly making time to spend with God in quiet; especially when things got busy. These times of quiet form the base from which we work and are sustained. Without them, it is easy to be swept up in and consumed by the busyness of the very endeavors we seek to serve God in. We might think of them as a sort of glue which holds the rest of our spiritual lives together by being the means by which we remain in God and abide in Him.

Just like Thresh’s “flay” is a subtle skill that brings the rest of his kit together and is crucial to him being able to fill his role well, our times of quiet retreat into secret prayer are vital to us being able to be good stewards of the gifts God has given us and to travel well on the road of discipleship.

Chibi Flay